So here’s the thing. It is so damned hard for me write and post and write and post when the world, politics, social issues and social traumas are so profound. Over and over again, it seemed so important that I just stop and be with what is happening and listen. Listen to the people who are speaking and sharing and telling the truth. Be with reality and look at what is right here, right now. That became my job as a human on the planet, as a parent and friend and family member. It continues to be my job and I am learning and trying to continually listen and show up.
Through these last few months, my hands have touched yarns, threads and fabrics, sometimes to start and finish a project. Sometimes just to experience a texture that brings me out of my head and into my body. Touching linen, wool, an embroidered patch, I either feel potential or potential brought to being by someone else’s hands. I’ve learned new things and am gearing up to learn more. I tried to fashion a weekly fiber arts group online to support the kids I’ve grown to know and care for so deeply, but I found that with kids being online so much for the remote learning switch they all had to make in early spring, they were weary of being online! So was I. It was overwhelming, moving my clinical practice online, helping my kids navigate schooling online, connecting with many people in my family through Zoom meetings. It got to where, if I wasn’t seeing my friends, family, clients or the news, I couldn’t look at one more thing. “No. I don’t want to see anything else on this screen. I can’t take it in. I want to look at the sky. I want to look for the bugs that are eating my plants. The turkey that visits my lawn. The eyes of the people I love.”
I felt and continue to feel like there are thousands of hugs stuck in my elbows. When I see someone I love and I restrain myself from the automatic hug, it actually kind of hurts in a tingly way, like a laugh stuck in my chest, or tears stuck in my throat. I marvel at how much I took those physical connections for granted and how often I must have hugged to have this feel so heartbreaking.
I’ve noticed though, that when I touch yarns and fabrics and create my own things or admire the things others have made, this wonderful thing happens. It’s like a shrinking of time. I recently started to learn how to tablet weave and in the process read a bit about the history of the craft.
That prompted me to make a miniature version of a warp-weighted loom using a bit of a tablet woven band to serve as the top decorative piece and the warp. As I worked on this project, which by the way is wonderful to look at but wobbly as hell, I couldn’t help but feel connected to the old. The really old. I thought about people who wove on warp-weighted looms thousands of years ago and considered the fact that there was evolution, trauma, creativity, fear and love happening then, too. I thought about the threads that run through time that show themselves in their myriad colors and levels of softness, fuzziness, usefulness and beauty. It occurred to me that this will always be the case. People will always be making things that connect them to the past, tie them to the present and hint at the future.
I find this to be soothing on a big scale. A dedicated focus on a tangible task allows me to look down with specificity of attention, and then up and out with a calmer mind. The back and forth accordion-like thinking in, thinking out is making the metabolizing of this time a bit more like the tides.
What do you do to balance your nervous system with the need to stay connected to what is happening right here, right now in time?
I watched my sister’s dog the other day, while she was out with my littles. A trade. With my furry niece, I sat under a tree. Pitch got stuck on my fingers. I realized I need to sit under trees with my children more.
And their seeds…
A misty river visit on an afternoon drive. Here, I felt close to many in my family who have passed away. Touching the cold, clear water, I told them all I miss them.
We drove up a mountain. I live in Vermont but I don’t go up very high most of the time. Scared the hell out of me. Not gonna lie.
Wisdom is everywhere. It does pay to go up high every now and then.
A doll I made. It’s me, when I’m old.
Off to a lecture at UVM, and in between events today I’ll work on finishing the second sleeve of my sweater.
The air was so warm and soft today. The sounds of late summer drifted through windows and around me as I meandered my way through a day filled with puttering, putting away and listening to children play, laugh and negotiate. Not much got done in the way of handwork other than knitting a few more rows onto my sweater. Slow and steady wins the race, I hope?
I looked outside as I folded laundry and saw this meeting of mushrooms. How had I not seen them before? Or did they just appear suddenly, a faerie ring?
Later, my daughter and her friends showed me this epic spider!
Soon, she had a bee in her web. Gruesome and awe inspiring. Deep respect to Shelob’s kin.
At the start of the weekend a friend had sharp eyes on a mid-afternoon walk. Purple fungus and slithering corn snake offered their colors as inspiration.
All of these moments and more make for a sweet entry into busy work and school week.
This summer was a time of taking a few risks, including putting my fiber art teaching love out into the universe in a different way. I’ve shared already the camp I offered to do with weaving. You can read about that here. The second camp I offered was all about making a book from scratch. It’s important to me for kids to know and be frequently reminded that they can make stuff, really cool stuff, with found items, recycling and a little ingenuity. Art supplies are expensive, as are art classes, but if you know how to get your hands on materials that are free or inexpensive, you have at your fingertips myriad ways to make art, to be an artists, to add your own beauty to the world. So… I was messing around one day after daydreaming about making a book for collage. My first book was the one pictured below. It’s made with handmade paper, wool that I wet-felted for the cover, a piece of driftwood and cotton thread for stitching together. I’ll show you the camp process, mostly in pictures with a little text, because I think the images speak for themselves. This is the project that inspired the camp.
I spent a good deal of time before camp began prepping some materials. Carding Shetland wool…
Making frames… a word on that: I found wooden frames at Michael’s craft store for $1 each. These saved the day. I had a number of frames on hand that I found at garage sales but I figured that kids are sometimes interested in making sure everything is even and balanced and fair, so, I decided to ensure that each child had the same size frame.
Also, I’ve been trying to find on line the tip I came across for outlining the frames with duct tape. I want to give credit to the blogger that shared that brilliant idea! Doing this makes for much easier removal of the paper once you flip it onto the drying surface. I will always do this now, and if I come across the blogger’s site, I will for sure share it here.
Here’s me stapling the screen onto the frame. I used my mom’s staple gun, which made me think of her. I feel close to her when I’m crafting or creating. You can read about why this is relevant here.
While things go better with kids when things are fair, they go even better than better when kids know which thing is theirs. It’s lucky I had this flashy duct tape on hand. No guess work needed!
Here’s the thing about paper pulp (made in a cuisinart with recycled paper and water; the paper I put through the shredder first)~ not all kids love touching gooey, smushy, splootchy wet stuff. It’s handy knowing this ahead of time so you can have at your finger tips ideas of what steps kids might enjoy doing in the process, like soaking up the water from the underside of the frame/screen with a sponge, stirring the pulpy concoction, adding flower bits, etc., in the even that full-on hand immersion in paper pulp is out of the question.
Here’s the kids looking for flowery colorful bits to throw in to our pulp.
If those colors aren’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.
I spent a good amount of time experimenting before camp started…
And dyeing wool…
Here’s some kids using a drum carder to prepare wool for felting. This camp included chances to do as many jobs as possible in the time we had. I had the kids pick a lot of the grassy bits out of the wool, fluff it open to prepare for carding, and then card it. There were varying opinions on this. I could sit and pick at wool all day and be fine. I love looking at those tasks as a chance to just chill the heck out and be with my thoughts. Not all kids love that, of course, so some felting was a wee bit chunkier than others, and that’s okay!
For the wet-felting part, I had the kids arrange the layers of wool they were using to make their book over on a plastic table on top of a sheet of freezer paper. Then, we covered the wool in warm, soapy water, and covered it all again with freezer paper. The paper stayed strong while the kids pressed and rubbed their hands over their wool. Once it was showing signs of felting, they could take off the top layer and use their hands to felt directly. Again, some kids love that textural messy feeling and others don’t. Leaving the freezer paper on for a while longer helped those who preferred keeping their hands free from that specific wet-wool feeling.
Then, once dried, the kids arranged their books as they wanted them, and had a chance to needle felt a design on to their covers. The night before the last day of camp, I sewed the books together. Originally, I’d hoped the campers would do that part, but we ran out of time.
I think these books are all so beautiful. Interspersed between their handmade paper, I included sheets of handmade paper from India that is more amenable to writing. I will keep working on my own paper making skills to see if I can get closer to that quality.
And listen, it’s not right to ignore the behind-the-scenes stars of the show… the sheep! Something I love about being a part of the fiber handcrafting and fiber art community is that I get to meet so many wonderful people. This is the second year that I’ve gotten wool from a wonderful man named Peter Moore, who lovingly cares for his four Shetland sheep. I met Peter because he posted online that he had wool available, and I jumped at the chance. I can say that I would call Peter a friend, now, and I truly don’t know how we would have ever met if not for our mutual love of sheep! Let me introduce his lovely wooly friends:
They are all half-sisters and are four years old. Their wool was the centerpiece of this camp (in my opinion), and the kids were champs, learning new skills every day and hopefully leaving with something they were proud of.
I’m sitting at my desk now, listening to the wind blow around the house. The temperatures are cooling and the birds are busy at the feeder. I am looking forward to the cooling down, the bundling up, the quieting of winter. Summer can be a full-on explosion of activity, work and play. It’s the extroverted season. These camps were a beautiful expression of all of that. I wonder what new things I’ll imagine up as I sit in the dark introverted winter. I guess we’ll see next year!
It’s been a while. I’ve missed writing here over the last couple of months. There’s been so much doing that I’ve had a hard time calming down enough to write about it all. But, a highlight of my summer was definitely offering two new summer camps to my repertoire of teaching opportunities: Explorations in Weaving and Making A Book From Scratch. Hanging out with kids, teaching them what I know, and having the flexibility and time to play, learn about each other and experiment with materials is an absolutely wonderful way to spend time. And, I got to have my own kids with me during both camps, which was an added bonus.
Explorations in Weaving Camp was a four-day, weaving filled (as you might imagine) practically meditative ride. All the kids that came were invested in weaving and at times, it was pinch-myself peaceful. The children’s calm and interest reinforced for me, yet again, how soothing weaving can be, and how satisfying it is as the fabric takes form and grows.
For each of the first three days, a different form of weaving was introduced. Day One was spent on Melissa and Doug Weaving Looms and Stitch Studio by Nicole Looms (can be found at A.C. Moore stores) to simply get the weaving process down.
I had prepared a sample project that we might make, which was a bag, but all the children preferred seeing their fabric open and free. We ended up securing them to driftwood, turning them into gorgeous wall-hangings with fringe. Below is one example…
The second day I offered each child a circular loom made from those metal rounds you can get at the craft store. I pre-warped them to save time.
The third day, I offered each child their pick of handmade looms crafted from driftwood and twine. These were my favorites. I’m sorry, but driftwood and yarn? A match made in paradise. I can’t get enough of it and hoped to make my enthusiasm for the combo contagious.
The fourth day was spent finishing up loose ends, decorating for our Weaver’s Art Show and just celebrating the heck out of their creativity and wonderfulness.
Lest you think all the children did was weave, weave weave… they actually mostly did, but having a sprinkler backup, ice pops and a basket of yarn to finger knit with was important. We also took walks in our field looking for wild flowers and long grasses, fairies and grasshoppers…
We have a new guest speaker to introduce. Please meet Nanna. She has come to us after many of life’s trials and tribulations. These include heartbreak, loss, grief and change of plans. But, Nanna is more than her pain and her burdens. She is wisdom and she has carried on through prayer, practice, ritual and faith. Nanna has also enjoyed the throes of romantic love, the blessings of motherhood and the anchor of deep friendship. She is a rare bird in these parts, these days, and she wanted to be able to share what she has learned during her long time on Earth. Realta and Sherman are overjoyed to be with her.
HH: Nanna, it’s so nice to have you join us. What is on your mind today?
Nanna: It is wonderful to be here and to have someone want to hear what I think about. It’s been a while since anyone has asked. Today, I am thinking about ritual, and work. After meeting many folks, feathered and otherwise, I am sensing great longing and hearing some confusion about what it is to have faith and practice. Not all beings need to embrace religion, of course. I am of the old world. Church does not offend me or scare me. I see it as a place to commune with God, the Great Spirit, the Holy Mother and Holy Father. I see it as a place to meditate, to pray, to find peace. But that is not what I mean by faith. Using that word is a choice and is meant to reflect rather a sense of connection with everything. To believe that there is a connection to Every Thing. I have also been thinking about ritual. Quiet prayers. Kneeling, standing. Chanting. Ritual has been a part of lived experience for millennia, and to some extent, I see it’s absence in modern culture creating vacuums where anxiety and distraction lie.
HH: What do you mean by ritual? To many, that word conjures images of formality and discipline within a dogmatic religious sphere.
Nanna: Well, I’ve learned over time that cultures and religions all have their own rituals. They are merely repeated acts, usually done in a certain order to support some kind of ceremony. Of course it is true that ritual plays an enormous part in what we do in the religious context. But that is not the only place where ritual lives.
What I think about is, why ritual? Why have we been doing ritualized things for so long? There is some kind of ordering principal to ritual, perhaps that establishes a mood, prepares the psyche for a set of experiences, etc. It seems important when considering how we have evolved over time.
HH: As someone who does not attend church but has enjoyed the rites and rituals of several different faiths I’ve been exposed to, I understand what you mean. What would you say to someone who does not identify with a specific religion?
Nanna: I’d say that ritual is all around us and that likely if we tune in to what we are doing, we’d see the pull towards ritualized archetypal practice. Look at the weaving you just completed. My guess is that before you began your piece, you had an image in mind, an intention, a hope. Maybe you thought of a person, or a place when you sat down to begin your work. You went through the process of warping your loom, walking back and forth, wrapping yarn around the peg. Did you do that rhythmically? Was there a beat? A resonance? Likely there was, even if you weren’t conscious of it. It’s hard to do that kind of work without it.
Once warped, you set to the process of weaving, back and forth with the shuttle, up and down with the heddle. You may have been praying, thinking, spacing out or tuning in , but you were making. Here and there on your piece, you can see areas where you got stuck or maybe had too tight or too lose of a warp thread. Learning and life captured in fabric. The work of the hands with materials, in my mind, is a form of ritual.
HH: I never thought of it like that. It’s funny that you can see my warp errors. Definitely still learning. But even though this is new for me, to weave on a rigid heddle loom, I still found the rhythm and the flow eventually. It’s the thing I love about weaving. Once you hit that flow you can let go and create at the same time, and make something tangible and useful. Spinning, too.
Nanna: Yes. That is what I like about it, too. And you know, there are cultures around the world for whom weaving and the dyeing of wool was a very spiritual and symbolic process. Patterns, shapes, the weavers themselves were and still are all part of the act of creation. Look at the goddesses all over the world who are associated with weaving and spinning: Frigg, Arachne, Maya to name a few. These goddesses’ stories tell tales of life, death, the merging of spirit and the corporeal.
I like this quote from John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes. I think it captures the aspect of weaving and other crafts that is of the hands. I am making an arch between the essence of using one’s hands to create and ritual, which creates a deeply personal relationship with our world and nature, our functionality and our usefulness.
“The whole structure of the human body anticipates and expects the presence of others. Hands reach out to embrace the world. Human hands are powerful images. Hands painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel and the heavenly women on the wall of Sigeria, wrote the Paradiso, sculpted the David; in Auschwitz, hands rose to bless the tormentors. Hands reach out to touch and caress the lover. Hands build walls, sow gardens, and direct symphonies… The whole history of our presence on earth could be gleaned from the witness and actions of hands. One of the great thresholds in human civilization was the development of tools with which we changed and civilized the landscape. The use of simple tools still meant personal contact with Nature. In these times, we have crossed another threshold where the tool is replaced by the mechanical instrument. The instrument is a means of exercising a function. With the development of instrumentalization, so much of our work and engagement with the world is no longer hands-on. Rather, our hands press the key and the instrument expedites the action. Instrumentalization saves labour but at the cost of direct contact with the world.” (pgs. 60-61).
I chose that piece to share because it is relevant to what I see happening today, a call back to the traditional skills that requires that individuals touch tools, land and nature. There is a reason handcrafting is such a powerfully moving medium these days. I do not believe it is a fad. I believe it is a call to re-engage with our hands, with our connection to Earth, to Nature, to our own resourcefulness and perhaps to having a good appreciation for what something is worth. Weaving, in many ways, can be seen as ritual made physical; ritual made practical. If one allows for it, weaving, knitting, crochet, spinning fibers… they all can serve as grounding and meditative experiences. That is beautiful because that is day-to-day life. Religion or no religion, engagement with materials can be meditative, instructive of our own nature and can bring us into alignment with our surroundings.
HH: So, you don’t think attending a specific church is necessary to gain this wisdom?
Nanna: Of course not! People all over the world have their own ways of attending to their relationship with their own spirituality, if they so wish. Organized, not organized… this is an entirely personal choice. What I am saying is that the call to ritual is apparently very important to the core of being, as it has been with us since documentation of any kind began. And, we can access that call through handwork, through handy-work, through engagement with our land and through an abiding respect for nature. Isn’t that wonderful?
HH: You are making me want to warp my loom again!
You can expect more from Nanna here on Healing Handcrafting in the future.
It’s been a bit, but not for lack of anything to say. Since this is just a post for musings I thought I’d share a couple of little bits of what’s been rumbling on in my brain lately.
We’ve been reading Lord of the Rings to our daughter at night and very often I find passages to be absolutely relevant to life now. I wonder how it’s all going to go for us. Will we as a human race wake up and see nature, Nature, for what it is? An ever present guide, evidence of creation itself? Will we look consistently beyond our borders and see how much we are all connected by the desire to live, to love and to survive? Us humans would do well to read our old legends and to try to gather up the living wisdom in our stories. Courage, the Hero’s Journey, making choices on all of these crossroads we face… we need all of the guidance and wisdom we can hold.
Managing existential anxiety is supported by weaving. I’ve got three circular weaving projects going right now and have finally started the weaving a bag on a box project I’ve been wanting to try for months now! I love all that Sarah Swett puts out and think this is super clever and fun. I’ll show you how it turns out when it’s all done.
I’ve been reading a lot about the Druids and early Celtic Christianity lately as part of a rather epic ancestry research binge I’ve been on for a while. I’m early in my studying, but I’ll tell you what, the Celts seemed pretty cool. They, even in their transition into Christianity, didn’t push their religious ideas on other people expecting them to drop what they already believed in. What I’ve read so far anyway, is that they deeply abided by their love and devotion to nature and saw god in their every day activities. Their connection to their own spirituality was not separate from nature and from other people but was rather wholly connected to it. I love this quote, which is offered in the book The Celtic Way, by Ian Bradley,
“As Noel O’Donoghue has eloquently observed, the Celts were deeply conscious of rhythm:
the rhythms of human life and the body’s ages and changes, the rhythms of the seasons, of work such as weaving and milking, of reaping with hook or scythe, of threshing the corn, of men rowing together, of women walking together. All these rhythms, and many others, were vocalised in song and what was called port beul or voice music
“The Celts sang as they worked, as they played and as they prayed. In Gaelic there is no word for music that is not sung while in Welsh the word for poetry and music is the same…” (pgs. 90-91).
Why does this all come to mind right now? I guess because in working with wool and with fibers, I am consistently reminded that we are at all times connected to what is ancient, what is searching, seeking and surviving, and I long ever more to stay connected to that reality. I think it gives perspective and reminds us that we are a migrating and growing species and that we have survived because of a willingness to change and adapt, as well as remain connected to what is completely human about us.
Here’s a little bit of my own weaving from a recent class I took at a wonderful place called Mad River Woolery in Waitsfield, Vermont. I learned some cool weaving techniques on an Ashford rigid heddle loom. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new Schacht rigid heddle loom… oh my!
Okay… so much more to say but I’ll spread it out! I finished my very green sweater which I’ll tell you all about on Friday (St. Patrick’s Day!), I’ve made friends with some sock puppets, and spring and summer plans are underway for gardens, wool fun and spinning yarn.
On the way to the store yesterday, my children and I saw a fox running down the middle of the road. It was early in the morning, so the much travelled but domestic road was not busy. We pulled up close to it, and saw that it was in rough shape. Its eyes were squinted nearly shut, its tail bet and injured. It took every amount of self control I had not to scoop it up and put it in the car. I kind of used our car to serve as a sheepherding dog, angling it towards an open field, at least to get it out of the middle of the road. Once it obliged, I pulled off and called the police. The police! I apologized, saying I didn’t know exactly who to call but here’s the deal… and the officer listened, got clarifying information, and said he’d call the Fish and Game Department to check it out. Note to Self: get that number in my phone!
We drove on, wishing the fox luck and feeling mighty sad. I think we all felt the weight of our impact on the world in that moment, in our heavy car on our road surrounded by houses and fast moving life. For the rest of the day, I thought about all the stuff I waste so regularly, even when I make big sweeping decisions not to. I thought about the fact that I don’t know what rabies looks like, or what the technical rules are about picking up hurt animals. It started to snow later, a great big dumping beautiful snow that we’ve been waiting all winter for, and I hoped that the officer really did call the right people, and that the little hurt fox was found and treated with respect. Ironic, given that this last weekend was also the time set aside for the annual coyote killing contest. People are encouraged to kill as many as they can, no restrictions. Prizes are available for all sorts of categories and as you might imagine, there is a lot of debate about such a gluttonous hunt.
We’re a complicated lot, us humans.
About to go on my hook: a beautiful, yummy bit of yarn spun by my friend Carol from Mountain Fiber Folk. This wool and bunny blend will soon be a new friend for Sherman, who needs a bit of companionship as he navigates this world of contrasts.
It’s been almost a month since my last post. I have missed writing here and allowing for myself the space to reflect on and share thoughts about handwork, process and life. I’ve not handled political news and world news well and needed to take some serious steps back so that I could regain some sort of balance and be the kind of mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend I want to be. As I write that, I realize that the one area I’ve neglected significantly is how I want to be in relationship with myself. It’s a well-worn complaint really, one that I’m kind of tired of, but nevertheless, tending to my relationship with myself is always, always the first priority I have to take a hit when the rumblings of pressure, grief, work and responsibility register on the Richter Scale of the nervous system. I can feel the effects now, but they are more of a tugging, a call to get back to having yarn move through my fingers as it becomes part of an image made real, practicing hand-stitching so that I might learn something new and make textured and calming designs, an urge to walk through the outside, amidst people and alone.
I do have to say, another deep and abiding feeling I have as this year wraps up and a new one is about to begin, is gratitude. Immense gratitude. I am learning how to have this feeling while allowing for grief at the same time for the immeasurable suffering that is experienced by people all over the world. It’s requiring a lot of stretching and expanding and allowing for reality. All of it. Not just the little slivers that I experience in my life with my loves.
And, there’s the word… Love. It is all I come back to and all I strive towards.
“Love is absolutely vital for a human life. For love alone can awaken what is divine within you. In love, you grow and come home to your self. When you learn to love and to let your self be loved, you come home to the hearth of your own spirit. You are warm and sheltered. You are completely at one in the house of your own longing and and belonging.” Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue
There are so many ways to share love and cultivate it in a life. This will be a primary focus of mine in the coming year, years, life…
~And, here’s a bit of a view of the last month~
Some things I made for gifts and for a little vendor pop-up in our town…
owl with monocle
grumpy owl in nest
little nest with little person
nature appetizer plate
owl with feathers
a dream catcher in progress for a friend’s daughter
And a little bit of our outside life!
who are you?
turkeys making their way into our woods
A sweater project I’m taking on!
My work space (a small part of it!)…
I’ve dug into working on genealogy and wow is it FUN!
Some projects that I’ve been doing with kids at our local school. Such fun! The circular weaving bird’s nest project came from this wonderful crafter. Check her out!
kids’ weaving progects
I hope the last few days of 2016, quite an ass-kicker of a year, prove to be gentle, filled with love and all that is precious to you.